Cover letter: attached or in the email?

Does this sound like you?

You have written an eloquent cover letter that matches your carefully designed executive resume. You have attached it to your email and now you have no idea what to put in the body of the email.

Or, you dismissed cover letters as outdated and you are now struggling to write the email you will use to send in your resume, realizing you needed some kind of a letter afterall.

As a hiring agent, I saw a range of awkward cover letter/email scenarios.

The often-amiss strategies spanned everything from entirely empty email bodies to exact copies of the attached cover letter’s content within the email body.

As recruiters and team builders cling to job-search formalities that no longer match our method of communication, job seekers are clearly confused about this dinasaur from another era.

How practical a cover letter is in today’s era of “Apply Now” buttons and text messaging is certainly debatable.

But one thing remains clear: if you are forwarding your resume to a human being you need to write something in your message—call it what you will (it’s actually called an E-note). And, don’t be surprised if you are asked to include a formal cover letter when applying, so be ready with both formal cover letter and brief email content.

Have a formal cover letter in your arsenal but be flexible.

Prepared job seekers must be ready to interface with those clinging to tradition and those who may view the formality of a traditional cover letter as outdated—pompous even.

Having a traditional cover letter, structured as formal business correspondence that uses the same letterhead as your resume is a good, “just-in-case” starting point. Simply create an E-note when needed by copying the body of the letter into the body of the email.

Some will argue that a cover letter is longer than an E-note, but make no mistake about it: in the 2020s, quick-scroll mentality is rampant. Brevity and “skimmability” reign. Thus both formal cover letter and less-formal E-note must be easy to skim with concise sentences and short, easy-to-digest paragraphs. Your cover letter and E-note will be indistinguishable—except in form—for most corporate job applications.

Which format is appropriate when?

Use a traditional cover letter:

1. When you have been specifically instructed to include one. An email does not suffice.

2. When you have been specifically invited to send in your resume and you know it will then be passed along to a hiring committee or team builder who you have not been in direct contact with.

In both cases, you will not leave your email body empty. Briefly indicate that your resume and cover letter are attached for the selection committee to review.

In all other cases where you are sending in your resume via email, use an E-note. Craft it as carefully as you would a formal cover letter.

Critical components for both E-note and cover letter

No matter the format, your correspondence must:

– Capture your reader’s attention and prompt them to open your resume, not tell your whole story (that’s your resume’s job!).

– Position you for the precise role you want.

– Clearly relay your unique value proposition, your strongest selling points, that which differentiates you from the rest of the candidates.

– Be succinct. Choose words for impact and brevity and eliminate clichés that describe all of your competitors.

Recruiter preferences change quickly and can vary widely as new technologies alter behaviors. The key is to be flexible with your job search tool box to respond in a way that is appropriate to the opportunity that comes your way.